For my STEP Project, I traveled to Europe with a group of other architecture students to experience and learn about important buildings in Europe. While on the trip, we sketched the places we went, and one of the primary focuses of instruction was on sketching. Although the primary focus of the trip was architecture, we also encountered and/or discussed art, history, culture, music, and food, and gained valuable experiences and friendships.
The most profound impact the trip had on me, personally, was the way I see and experience architecture. I was also impacted by the similarities of people in different countries despite having cultures different from my own. Before going on this trip, I had a decent enough knowledge about architecture and that it was something that is meant to be experienced, so it can’t fully be grasped through pictures or drawings. Visiting so many important buildings gave me a chance to compare my opinions of a building based on drawings and photographs we see in classes and the actual experience of the space. There were some buildings that I thought were great and interesting theoretically, but in real life were not as spectacular, and there were others which I loved on the trip even though I had an originally low opinion of them.
One of the first buildings we visited on the trip was Villa Muller designed by Adolf Loos, who was one of the earlier proponents of Modernism. I honestly didn’t think it was all that interesting when we learned about it in our history class; it has a somewhat plain façade, and the floorplan wasn’t something spectacular. When we went there, however, I was amazed at the complexities of the building in section and fell in love with the interesting interior spaces. It hard to describe the specifics of my change in opinion, mostly because it was based on an internal feeling; the space created a feeling which cannot be found in pictures or drawings, and this is why I have gained such a new insight by visiting these places.
One building that I loved before going on the trip was Zaha Hadid’s Vitra Fire Station, because it is meant to be exploding out of the landscape and poised in dynamic movement. Zaha uses paintings to show her buildings conceptually, and they are beautiful. When we visited, the site was generally grey, and there weren’t these lively explosions of colour and form as the paintings would suggest. Of course these were abstract paintings and nothing could truly live up to that expectation, however there was such a great difference between the two. The building was still very interesting and one of my favourites, but it was a vastly different experience than I first imagined.
It was also important to see buildings in their context. All buildings exist in a very specific location, even if it doesn’t look out of the ordinary, and this has a major impact on the building. When we learn about these buildings in our classes, we are told what city they are in and maybe what the site context is, but it is completely different than walking down the street and passing a grocery store, a bank, and a few apartments before arriving at a crazy Frank Gehry building. After the trip, it is my opinion that architecture is 99% experience.
Having this deeper insight into many canonical works of architecture is incredibly beneficial for my future life as a designer. I have a greater understanding of these buildings which are constantly referenced and I can have an educated opinion on them based on my own experience. It is also very helpful to understand how drawings of buildings translate into built buildings, and now I can design with a greater sensibility of spatial complexities than I would have been able to before. I have become more in tune with the everyday experience rather than just the theoretical concept.
Seeing many great works of architecture has greatly helped me develop projects in studio. I am able to remember buildings easier, and more importantly, I am aware of how they work. It is an incredible challenge to turn an idea into a working creation, and I have seen what works and what doesn’t. Even though I only saw a small portion of the world of architecture, I still saw enough to invite questions and find answers. I await the day when I can travel again.